Roughnecks confident bunch

The last time these two teams met, 60 minutes didn’t settle anything.

The Edmonton Rush had the first possession of overtime, but they failed on their first shot attempt.

The Calgary Roughnecks came down the floor and National Lacrosse League leading scorer Josh Sanderson fired home the winner for a 15-14 victory.

That sequence is the reason the Roughnecks get to host Saturday’s West Division semifinal at the Saddledome (1 p.m., Fan 960), and it shows just how close the two Alberta rivals were this season.

Both teams had 10-6 records and both were 5-3 at home and 5-3 on the road. Both teams feature deep offences, swarming defences and have star transition players in Jeff Shattler for the Roughnecks and Brodie Merrill for the Rush.

Because of that Riggers victory, the home side enters the post-season hotter, having won four straight games.

And being that the Riggers won the Champion’s Cup, they have the advantage in terms of experience, especially since this is the Rush’s first playoff appearance.

There was much talk of a championship hangover for the Riggers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now.

“It seems like such a different year than last year, but we only lost two more games than we did last year,” said Riggers defender Scott Carnegie. “A 10-6 mark is something to be proud of. The league was tougher with one less team (after Portland folded).

“It still seems like we haven’t played our best yet. We went 9-3 after that terrible start (1-3). There were a lot of one-goal games, but it’s a one-goal lead. The guys are happy and looking forward to the playoffs. We can definitely get this done again.”

The Roughnecks seemed to be on a mission last season when it all came together for the franchise’s second title.

And it was no contest in the playoffs.

The Riggers opened with a 15-8 win over the Colorado Mammoth, then jumped out to a 15-goal lead over the San Jose Stealth before winning 17-5. Even the 12-10 championship win over the New York Titans wasn’t as close as the score.

This year is a different story, as the Riggers needed three one-goal victories to finish the regular season.

“The big thing for us is expectations,” said captain Tracey Kelusky. “I have expectations of the other guys because I’ve seen them do it. Guys have expectations of me.

“Sometimes, we get into a trap that if something doesn’t happen as we envision it in our head, we get frustrated and a bit sidetracked.”

The Rush were much better in tight contests this season. They used to lose a lot of one-goal games, but this season under new head coach Derek Keenan, they were 6-1 in those outings.

In overtimes, the Rush were 3-1, with the only loss being at the hands of the Riggers two weeks ago.

“We have a lot of important players who want the ball in their stick at crunch time,” Keenan said. “That’s part of the reason we’ve won so many one-goal games.

“We have figured out ways to win games down the stretch in a lot of circumstances. Our only loss down in one-goal games was to Calgary. They have similar players in their lineup, which makes for a great matchup.”

Riggers head coach Dave Pym breaks down the 16-game season into quarters, and the final one was perfect for his team.

The team feels pretty good about itself right now, which is how they should be entering the second season.

“We’re coming in the way we want,” said Shattler. “We’re confident. Hopefully, we’re not too confident.

“It’s going to be a battle. It wouldn’t matter who we’re playing, but all those games we played against them were close.”

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca


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